Trigger Warnings: Torture, Rape, Executions
Pretty much everything about “Wentworth Prison” is dark, dank, dirty and grimy.
From the opening shot of various torture implements inside the prison to the prison courtyard where the executions take place to the claustrophobic interiors of the warden’s office and the cells, the whole episode is geared to cause the maximum amount of unease and discomfort.
And the three leads? They give absolutely breathtaking, brilliant performances. Tobias Menzies plays Black Jack with all of his silky sadism just a little too well, Sam Hueghan is magnificent in his portrayal of a person who literally is at the end of his rope, and Caitriona Balfe’s full range is on display as Claire moves from despair to anger to rage to grief to hope.
Jamie also moves from despair to anger to rage, but there is basically no hope left in him after Randall stops the execution in order to rape and torture Jamie. Randall has long been obsessed with breaking Jamie, and Claire’s attempted rescue gives Randall the perfect leverage with which to finally get his way.
We leave Randall and Jamie with Randall chillingly intoning “Shall I begin?” as he cuts Jamie’s clothing.
But, not before Randall tosses Claire into an open pit outside the prison that contains Wentworth’s most recent execution victims—MacQuarrie included.
For all of the horror Randall inflicts on Claire, though, she manages to inflict a little bit of her own torture upon Randall, and in the most satisfying instance of Claire’s messing with space-time, she not only confesses to being a witch—Randall glibly brings up her trial—but she curses Randall whispering in his ear the day that he will die.
For the first and only time in Outlander so far, Randall felt a glimmer of fear.
Yet, the most important work that “Wentworth Prison” does has very little to do with using Randall and Jaime to examine of the psychology of torture—where the perpetrator forms an extremely twisted, yet intimate, relationship with the victim—but comes in how the episode shows that the use of torture requires the implicit complicity or outright permission of a society and its authorities and how the pathology of torture is a crucial instrument of Empire.
For all of the distaste that the Duke of Sandringham and any number of Randall’s colleagues and superiors have expressed towards Randall’s methods, deep down these superiors know that the Imperial project that England is pursuing needs people like Randall to insure its success.
In order for empires to expand and flourish, populations to be conquered, exploited, and potentially exterminated must be dehumanized by those in power, and people like Randall are at the center of such dehumanization tactics, and those in power are adept at using words and phrases like “security”, “protection”, “manifest destiny”, and “homeland” in order to gain the consent of the populous to do whatever is necessary to maintain and expand that power.
We see this dynamic in play when two soldiers interrupt Randall’s “interrogation” of Jamie and Claire to tell him of an escape attempt. When the soldiers seem dubious of not telling the Warden, Sir Fletcher Gordon (Frazer Hines: Doctor Who, Emmerdale) of Randall’s doings, Randall tells the soldiers that his prisoners are involved in a murderous plot against the King. Such a thing was all the soldiers needed to hear in order to allow Randall to continue what he was doing.
As for the Warden himself, he buries himself in religion and in pious observance—both of which are also frequently used as justification for torture.
The Inquisition wasn’t the first nor is it the only organization that brutalized in the name of religion.
Randall doesn’t see Jaime or Claire or Jenny or anyone else as people; rather, they are simply flesh that he has the need to dominate and upon which to inflict pain. Randall is quite explicit in that viewpoint when he tells Claire that he “isn’t in the mood for c*nt” because Randall has the suffering body of Jamie to exploit.
No, Randall is much more interested in the scars on Jamie’s back. The tangible effects of Randall’s handiwork upon Jamie’s body are really what drives Randall’s desires, which he himself calls “unnatural”.
However much Randall had his own individual pathology as a sadist and however much Randall as a character is a particularly egregious example of the “depraved LGBTQIA+” person trope, Randall’s reduction of people to bodies—and body parts—to be dominated and exploited are absolutely part and parcel of how Empire—and the colonialism that sustains it—work.
An open door is nae a plan.:
- Frazer Hines, who plays Sir Fletcher, is best known as playing Jaime McCrimmon, who was the longest-serving companion on Doctor Who. McCrimmon, of course, was Gabaldon’s original inspiration for Jaime Fraser. Talk about your fan service!
- While there wasn’t a whole lot of levity in “Wentworth Prison”, Angus and Rupert manage to keep things sort of light by losing money to some prison guards to gain information and then making fun of Willie and Murtagh for sitting around and moping.
- The plan to bust Jamie out of Wentworth will involve cows. It must be an awesome plan!
- MacQuarrie’s last words, “To the Devil with England”, and his taunting of the English soldiers were a fitting way for us to part with him.
- MacQuarrie also added a nice bit of dark humor at the beginning of the episode, lamenting that MacQuarrie had to die first because he wanted Jamie to “put in a good word” with Saint Peter.
- Ronald D. Moore is no stranger to featuring compelling, non-exploitative stories centering on torture, such as the teleplay he wrote to the ST:TNG episode, “Chain of Command, Part 1” where Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians and tortured.
- The writer of “Wentworth Prison” Ira Steven Behr, in addition to penning “The Garrison Commander” and “By The Pricking of My Thumbs” for Outlander, has shown great facility in writing thoughtfully about difficult topics for The 4400, Dark Angel, and ST: DS9.
- Jamie does manage to get in a good verbal jabs at Randall when Jamie says “I prefer the noose to your company.”
- Randall taunts Jamie by asking Jamie “Do I haunt your dreams?” to which Jamie later responds “I’m the one who haunts your dreams.” Proving that Jamie can still keep his wits about him in the worst circumstances.
- It says something about Randall’s character that he even freaks out Marley (Richard Ashton: The New Adventures of Robin Hood, Vikings), the prison’s torture master.
- In an example of both Scotland as being basically a small town and as an unnecessary plot contrivance, Claire offers her pearls to Sir Marcus MacRannoch (Brian McCardie: Rob Roy, Speed 2, M.I. High), who is sheltering her party. MacRannoch was the one who gave the pearls to Ellen Fraser as a wedding gift.
- MacRannoch will provide the cows.